Anger at UK's investment in 'risk-free' drone war

Protest march to RAF base – but it is revealed that new drones costing £2bn may soon be obsolete

Hundreds of anti-war campaigners descended on an RAF base in Lincolnshire yesterday demanding an end to Britain's development of heavily armed unmanned aircraft of the type that have killed terrorists, enemy forces and civilians around the world.

Protesters from groups including CND and the Stop the War Coalition gathered at RAF Waddington to warn of the dangers of "long-distance warfare", days after it emerged that aircrew at the base had begun remotely controlling drones flying thousands of miles away in Afghanistan. Previously, all unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) missions over Afghanistan had been operated from Creech air force base in Nevada.

The Ministry of Defence insists that it does not use armed UAVs against terrorist suspects outside Afghanistan, and that the vast majority of UK drone flights are reconnaissance missions. But British drones within Afghanistan have deployed 350 weapons since 2007, including Hellfire guided missiles and laser-guided bombs.

The demonstration reflects growing concern over the UK's investment in "remote 'risk-free' warfare". Critics claim this makes it easier for politicians and military chiefs to launch air strikes from thousands of miles away that put civilians at risk.

The pressure group Drone Wars UK has warned MPs that the use of armed UAVs "is a perilous military escalation which endangers global peace and security".

In a submission to the defence select committee inquiry into the state of Britain's military establishment, published last week, the group stated: "Concerns... include whether armed UAVs are lowering the political costs of military intervention, expanding the use of targeted killing and creating international instability rather than security.... we [are concerned] about moves to develop autonomous unmanned systems as well as arming smaller surveillance UAVs."

Defence chiefs are researching a new generation of more powerful UAVs, amid fears that a £2bn upgrade in development may be obsolete by the time it is finally delivered.

The Scavenger programme – a fleet of 30 unmanned aircraft able to attack targets and carry out reconnaissance missions – is due to come into service later this decade. But officials admit that "some elements of the system will inevitably be obsolete on introduction to service and many others shortly thereafter".

Lord Bates, a Conservative, said: "The temptation to see a greater tactical use of drones in areas of the world where there is no political will to put the lives of British forces at risk or in the absence of an international mandate must be very great, and that is why an open debate is necessary."

Air Marshal Sir John Walker, a former chief of Defence Intelligence, said that "having a capability like the drones on the order of battle can only be a good thing" because they could help troops on the ground who are in trouble, if necessary.

But Chris Nineham, vice-chairman of the Stop the War Coalition, said: "The technology that is being introduced is giving carte blanche to governments to fight wars behind the backs of people with no public scrutiny or accountability."

Thomas Nash, from the arms control group Article 36, said: "We are seeing a slide towards the greater autonomy of weapons. Full autonomy on the battlefield, where the power is given to a machine to decide who lives or dies, crosses a fundamental moral line. The UK says it will always keep human control over weapons and this is an important commitment. But unless they tell us what that means, we are at risk of sleepwalking into fully autonomous weapons."

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "UK Reaper aircraft are piloted by highly trained professional military pilots, who adhere strictly to the same laws of armed conflict and are bound by the same clearly defined rules of engagement that apply to traditionally manned RAF aircraft."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power